Washington – The candidates in the race for the 3rd District congressional seat are about as far apart in their political views as two people can be, setting the stage for a lively, if lopsided, campaign.
Incumbent Rep. Rosa DeLauro is a Democrat. Her opponent, James Brown, a Republican.
DeLauro, 71, is seeking her 13th term in the House of Representatives. Brown, 45, has never served in office and favors limiting the number of terms a representative can serve.
Brown’s campaign fund had about $6,600 at last report. DeLauro has raised more than $1 million.
Brown has attacked and condemned many of DeLauro’s positions and votes, calling her an Obama “rubber stamp” and demanding her resignation. DeLauro has ignored her opponent in her political mailings and ads.
DeLauro is passionate about protecting social programs, strengthening food safety rules, and promoting Obamacare. Brown’s platform includes the elimination of the Department of Education, tighter enforcement of the nation’s borders and overturning the Affordable Care Act
Brown’s campaign, in one political observer’s words, will be an “uphill battle, to say the least.”
Quixotic, might be another word.
The New Haven-based 3rd District has been continuously represented by a Democrat since 1983. DeLauro took over in 1991 from Democrat Bruce Morrison. Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two-to-one. The district supported President Obama by a similar margin in both 2008 and 2012.
DeLauro won her last election with about 77 percent of the vote. She is well connected in both New Haven and Washington, and refers to her district as home to “the first hamburger ever made and the best pizza in the world.”
She’s seeking her 13th term because “I love what I do,” she says. Her motivation stems “from growing up in an Italian Catholic household” where both parents were New Haven aldermen.
“They didn’t work on omnibus legislation but they worked on behalf of the people they represented,” DeLauro said. She calls herself an advocate for the disadvantaged and the middle class. “My folks were there for them, and I will be there for them,” DeLauro said.
The DeLauro campaign web site ignores Brown and stresses her efforts in Congress, including obtaining a National Heritage Area designation for the Naugatuck River Valley, her fight against the Pentagon over their purchase of Russian-made helicopters and her push to strengthen federal equal pay laws. Her campaign slogan is “fighting for people.”
Brown is a math teacher at Stratford’s Frank Scott Bunnell High School who has taken a leave in order to campaign. His stance on most issues is 180 degrees from DeLauro’s, giving voters starkly different choices this year.
That is, if Brown can get his message out.
Brown, who is affable and eloquent, said he has adopted a “boots on the ground” strategy that involves campaigning at fairs, train stations, malls, concerts on village greens and everywhere else a crowd congregates.
He also sends out blast e-mails advertising his itinerary, soliciting campaign funds, laying out his positions, and attacking DeLauro.
Brown said he decided to run for Congress because he did not like the direction the country is heading in, with growing budget deficits and a federal government that he believes encroaches on personal liberties.
“People are really tired of what’s going on in Washington,” he said.
Brown will be on the ballot on Nov. 4 because he won 86 percent of the delegate votes in the Connecticut Republican Convention, beating out Steve Packard, another candidate who wanted to run against DeLauro.
In a way, DeLauro’s popularity paved the way for his candidacy by dissuading other Republicans from running, Brown said.
“More experienced people would think it’s not a good political move,” he said. “Right now, this is actually not a bad district in terms of getting my name on the ballot.”
Brown is running on his outsider status. He argues that the House of Representatives should reflect the nation’s population and be composed of math teachers and other “regular Americans” instead of “career politicians” — like DeLauro. That’s why he supports term limits.
Ron Schurin, political science professor at the University of Connecticut, calls Brown’s candidacy “an uphill battle, to say the least.”
Brown said he realizes he’s an underdog. But that doesn’t matter to him.
“My focus has never been on the results of Election Day,” he said. “It’s not the end result. It’s getting your message out.”
Connecticut state Sen. Joe Markley, a Republican, said he sat down with Brown last winter “and talked to him about the challenges of running.”
But Markley said Brown was determined to “put his life on hold” in the hopes of “going down and fixing the mess in Washington.”
“I like him,’ Markley said. “He’s the kind of candidate the public is crying out for, if they only could recognize him as such.”
Schurin said the district’s Democratic bent makes DeLauro a good fit, especially since minorities are now more than a fourth of the district’s population and a growing constituency.
DeLauro has also been on the front lines of a Democratic campaign to address the concerns of women, including their rights to birth control and equal pay – a move she also hopes will lock in those female votes.
“She is definitely part of the liberal wing of the Democratic caucus,” Schurin said.
DeLauro is a member of the House Democratic leadership – she’s co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee – and close to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, but she sometimes veers to the left of her leadership.
For instance, she resented the compromises Pelosi made on the Affordable Care Act in an effort to win broader support for the health care bill, Schurin said. More recently, DeLauro split with Pelosi over whether to give President Obama authority to arm and train Syrian rebels. DeLauro voted against doing so.
That’s probably one of the few positions she shares with Brown, who also opposed the idea.
“I don’t want the U.S. to be involved in endless military actions,” he said.
DeLauro’s seat on the House Appropriations Committee allows her to fight against GOP cuts to social programs, like food stamps or Head Start. She’s also a strong advocate for Sikorsky Aircraft and other defense contractors in the district.
Meanwhile, Brown says he wants to focus on border security, not because he has any rancor toward immigrants, but because of his concern that terrorists may slip across the border.
“If we don’t know who’s coming into this country, we’re in trouble,” he said.
He said he became aware of border issues during the few years he taught school in Harlingen, Texas, a town that’s a stone’s throw from the Rio Grande.
He would like a repeal of the Affordable Care Act because, he says, “I’m a free market guy,” but concedes it’s not likely.
“Yes it’s helping some people,” Brown said of the ACA. “But it’s killing others.”
A live wire
Brown was born and raised in Newtown, attended the University of Connecticut and is recently divorced. Although he quit teaching math, he continues to coach high school track teams.
He said part of the attraction he’s had to politics is that, “I’m an issues kind of person.”
DeLauro worked for the city of New Haven, and for its mayor, for several years before she came to Washington, D.C., to serve as former Sen. Chris Dodd’s chief of staff. She divides her time between the Capitol; the Capitol Hill home she shares with her husband Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster; and the 3rd District, where she holds countless roundtables and events.
Both in Washington and Connecticut she lives up to a New York Times description of the lawmaker as “a live wire whose words rush out like sparks.”
DeLauro has been touring all the diners in her district. She says some of the diner’s patrons would rather continue with their meals, but many are happy to see her and “express their views to a member of Congress.”
“I’m everywhere and will continue to campaign all over the district,” DeLauro said. The lawmaker, however, doubts she’ll spend money on television advertising.
She welcomes Brown’s challenge as proof of the success of American democracy.
“We live in such a great democracy sometimes we take it for granted,” DeLauro said. “This is a place where people can express their views…even run for office if they want.”
As far as the prospects of returning to a Congress that’s likely to remain in gridlock and a House of Representatives that’s likely to remain under GOP control, DeLauro said she doesn’t get frustrated.
“You don’t just sit on the sidelines, you stand up and fight for those things you believe in,” she said.